Holiday Classic preview: Chasing Hancock

Much has already been made about the Hancock Bulldogs’ hockey team’s “Black” line of Alex Nordstrom, Teddy Randell and Lance Kangas this season. The trio have the Bulldogs cruising on nearly all cylinders heading into the MacInnes Holiday Classic, which starts Wednesday night.

Looking to knock off the Bulldogs will be the Howell Highlanders, the Calumet Copper Kings and the Houghton Gremlins. The Gremlins are the defending champions, but they will have a tough time with their tournament opener. More on that later.

The Bulldogs fell 4-1 in the season-opener to a very strong Hartland Eagles squad in a game that saw Hancock’s captain Tommy Randell prone on the ice after taking a body check and falling awkwardly into the boards.

Since that game, the Bulldogs have rattled off six straight victories, the last three of which have come with backup goaltender Cam Murray between the pipes due to an injury to starter Dawson Kero.

Nordstrom leads Hancock with 11 goals and 22 points through seven games. To give a sense of how good he has been, he scored 33 goals and 59 points last season in 30 games last season (which is impressive), but he is on pace for 47 goals and 94 points this season if his pace keeps up.

Teddy Randell is also off to a great start with three goals and 21 points. Kangas has chipped in seven goals and 11 points.

The Highlanders feature a couple of names that should sound familiar to local fans: Sheldon Sturos and Russell Daavettila. The duo have helped the Highlanders start the season strong, going 7-2 through their first nine games with losses to Hartland and Novi.

Sturos leads the way for the Highlanders with team-highs in goals (seven), assists (12), and points (19). Daavettila has also started strong with six goals and 17 points.

The Highlanders’ loss to the Eagles 4-1 just like Hancock, but the Eagles were playing their first game without Jed Pietila at the time.

In their most-recent action, seven days ago, Howell needed overtime to get past Utica Eisenhower, who lost to Houghton and tied Calumet, but has beaten Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie.

In the second semifinal on Wednesday night, the Copper Kings and Gremlins square off for the second time in just over a week. The Copper Kings won the first matchup between the two teams, 7-1, at Dee Stadium.

The Copper Kings are 3-4-1 on the season, but are 3-0-1 since opening their season with four straight losses, two to Hancock followed by two to Cranbrook.

Before last season, Calumet coach Dan Giachino impressed upon me about how good an incoming freshman, Brent Loukus, was going to be. That potential was barely scratched in a seven-goal, 18-point rookie campaign that included seven points in two-game stretch against Negaunee and Kingsford. Loukus has already shown growth in Year Two, leading the Copper Kings with six goals and 14 points through the first eight games.

Another freshman is quietly showing that he can be a force at the high school level. Gabriel Coppo has five goals and 10 points on the season, but he was especially impressive against the Gremlins, where he netted four points.

The Gremlins opened the season with three straight losses, falling to Hartland, Marquette and Hancock, but followed those up with six straight wins, including a 6-5 win in overtime against Utica Eisenhower.

Jacob Kruse has quietly had a strong start to his final season, scoring 10 goals and 19 points through the first 10 games of the season. Dawson McKay, who missed the loss to Hartland, has been very strong since, scoring eight goals and 14 points in nine contests.

If a team can hold Hancock’s top line in check, they could be challenged. The Bulldogs have not had to deal with that yet, but if Howell, Calumet or Houghton could find a way to do it, things could get interesting very fast. We might find out just how interesting as early as Wednesday night.